History of Design: The Life, Work, and Style of Fashion Mogul Karl Lagerfeld as Reported by FIDM Student Hyeyeon ‘Hailey’ Kim

Editor’s Note: Every quarter at FIDM/Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, students of various majors are challenged to focus on a famous design or designer to assess its historical impact on culture and the design community in a class called History of Design. In the report below, FIDM Graphic Design Student Hyeyeon ‘Hailey’ Kim reports on life and career of prolific fashion mogul Karl Lagerfeld. The following article has been edited for clarity.

Designer Report: Karl Lagerfeld by Hailey Kim

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For my designer report, I have chosen Karl Lagerfeld, who is a German fashion designer based in Paris. He is an iconic, global fashion designer with his great fashion sensibility and trademarks: white ponytail hair, dark sunglasses, leather globes and fashionable style. He is currently a creative director and head designer of fashion house Chanel, Fendi and his own brand. He also designed other products like Coca Cola Diet cover design, wrote his own book, and directs photos for fashion shoots.  I definitely think Lagerfeld is one of truly iconic designers in the world and I respect his passion for fashion. Doing same work for almost 60 years is impossible a person does not love his/her job.

Before becoming the leading fashion designer he is today, he worked for various brands. Vogue says that Lagerfeld is the master of reinvention, having repeatedly transformed himself as well as his labels. He has previously designed for Chloe and created a collection for H&M. Karl Otto Lagerfeldt was born in 1933 to a wealthy German businessman father and Swedish mother in pre-war Germany. Lagerfeld changed his original surname from Lagerfeldt, removing the ‘t’ because – as he wrote in his book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet – it sounded “more commercial.” Initially educated at St Anne’s School, after his family’s emigration to France, Lagerfeld finished his education at Lycée Montaigne, focusing on drawing and history. In 1955, he worked at Pierre Balmain after winning a competition after which he went on to work at Jean Patou, Krizia, Charles Jourdan and Valentino. In 1967, Lagerfeld joined Fendi, then Chloe the following decade.

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Vogue also says that he joined Chanel in 1983, only a decade after Coco Chanel died and only five years after the label’s first ready-to-wear collection. In 1984, he launched his own name Karl Lagerfeld label which, he said, would channel “intellectual sexiness.” By 1977, Vogue crowned Lagerfeld “unparalleled interpreter of the mood of the moment.” Lagerfeld is famous for having lost a lot of weight and for his diet book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. He lost 90 pounds on a diet and said “I think that fashion is the healthiest motivation for losing weight.” In 2005, Lagerfeld sold his own brand (Lagerfeld gallery and Lagerfeld), to Tommy Hilfiger, but maintained full design involvement.

In an interview with Elle magazine, Lagerfeld once said, “I’ve never smoked. I don’t drink. I don’t even drink coffee. I don’t like to smoke. I have nothing against other people smoking. If you want to smoke, you go ahead. But for me, I need my hands for sketching. I have no time for a cigarette! Then I have no time for alcohol, because I fall asleep instantly.” He loves his job and sketches so he seriously that he takes care of himself. I love the way he thinks and I have no doubt that he is professional designer and his passion for fashion has led him to his current position.

Although Lagerfeld has worked on various creative projects– from clothing, shoes, bags and fragrances, to Coca Cola Diet covers, publishing, directing film, photo shoots and other collaborations, he is definitely best known for fashion design, many of which have been incredibly popular. For example, the Chanel Classic Bag that is world widely famous with CC logo, the Chanel Boy Bag that is also very popular collection that Lagerfeld made, and Chanel Lego clutch. Lagerfeld is an icon in fashion world like no other and he has his own style. Let’s dive further into eight of his remarkable designs.

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The first design I want to discuss about is KL Incense that is the Ice Cream Pumps Karl Lagerfeld designed for the collaboration with Melissa. The brand specializes in making stylish, fashion-forward plastic shoes and has collaborated with some famous designers including Lagerfeld who made a collection for Melissa Brazil in 2013. The shoes are very simple and normal but heels are “ice cream” with a cone shape. The Incense + Karl Lagerfeld shoes shown here took center stage, produced in a variety of colors like black with purple “ice cream,” white with pink ice cream, white with bright yellow ice cream, and so on. The design itself is very eye-catching, lovely, unique, and fresh. Karl Lagerfeld says, “My inspiration was the native country of the brand, celebrating the Brazilian joie de vivre. The best way to know the country is to work with people from that country. I know little about Brazil so it’s a great opportunity!” (Source: melissaaustralia.com)

I think it really fits to the image of Melissa and shows Lagerfeld’s sensibility. The ice cream part is sparkling and naturally having a circle shape and the corn part is showing the triangular shape like the real ice cream corn with details in texture. Karl Lagerfeld put “Melissa” on the ice cream cone as well.

karl-lagerfeld-ice-cream-pumps

Melissa’s webpage also mentions that Karl Lagerfeld is known to those in the industry as the Godfather of fashion and is a legend in his own time. His trademark look – ponytail and dark sunglasses – is just as notorious as his work. “His ability capture, interpret and anticipate tomorrow’s trends is always fascinating and we cannot wait to see what elements he brings to his future designs for Melissa.” (melissaaustralia.com) A lot of celebrities and people wear his Incense shoes because they all know Karl’s design is unique and iconic. People who love unique shoes design, they will definitely love Karl’s Incense shoes and somehow the heels look pretty comfortable with the not-too-thin ice cream cone shape. Therefore, I think it works both in design and function.

The second design of Karl Lagerfeld is the Chanel Hula Hoop Beach Bag that was on the Chanel Spring 2013 Runway show. As you can see in this image, the handle is a huge circle-like hula hoop and the bag is actually the half of circle. The design is absolutely unique and extraordinary. When I first saw this bag, I didn’t realize that it is a bag because it is not only huge, but also a circle shape so it looks kind of uncomfortable. So, at first, I was thinking, “What is this bag for? Does it work?”

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Vogue News mentioned that Lagerfeld has explained the inspiration behind that Chanel Hula Hoop bag seen in the spring/summer 2013 show – and you might be surprised at its intended purpose. The circular design was the talk of Lagerfeld’s latest collection for the French fashion house – almost threatening to upstage those enormous wind turbines flanking the catwalk. “It’s for the beach,” Lagerfeld told the Daily Telegraph post-show. “You need space for the beach towel. And then you can put it into the sand and hang things on it.” (vogue.co.uk)

The idea is clever but the big problem that people usually think easily is, “who is going to use Chanel bag for beach bag?” Maybe this design works with a nice modern-looking circle shape, but the function is not really great. Most people likely can’t afford or would consider bringing it to the beach given the price. The bag could be an edgy, stylish, modern and unique bag with the extraordinary design. Like all Karl Lagerfeld’s designs, this hula-hoop beach bag is very “Karlish” because he always thinks differently and makes standard products look incredible.

The third design of Lagerfeld’s is Chanel Spring/Summer 2014 Haute Couture collection. According to Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni of Chanel News who has interviewed Lagerfeld, his motivation was to “shake up the codes of Couture with this collection” where short jackets, long dresses and sneakers are worn together.

“He explains, “In the history of fashion, around 1800 to 1840 or 1845, women had flat shoes. Even with a ball gown, they had flat shoes. It gives a new, modern attitude to Couture. The flexibility between the skirt, the top and the waist means you can move. It is not one stiff piece. Then it would be démodé,” he says to Fraser-Cavassoni. “What is better about Couture than the feeling of now? Paradise now.”

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His collection was very urban and modern– even if he was inspired by 1800s fashion trends. For the show, the models didn’t even wear jewelry or accessories at all, which I think was his intent. He definitely wanted to make the collection different from others, not only the designs, but also the show. All the designs were white, silver, black, some toned-down colors, and light patterns. I have never thought Chanel dresses can be matched with sneakers but Lagerfeld made it work. Jessica Michault of Now Fashion Online Magazine says, “Karl Lagerfeld had given the ultimate urban accessory– sneakers – the couture treatment. Models skipped, hopped, and spun along the catwalk with an infectious joie de verve that had a youthful freshness to it. Their techno tweed and lace trainers, sometimes shimmering with sequins or tricked out in pearls, serving them well as they pranced about in front of a delighted audience.”

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The contemporary version of ’80s fashion style gives me a realization: trends come again. His focus on a corseted midriff, its leitmotif hourglass shape accentuated by rounded, crop sleeved tops and curvy short skirts, smartly accented the athletic energy of the collection. All the lines, shapes, balance, textures, and patterns make a harmony throughout the collection. I think his motivation worked very well by mixing up an old-style fashion with a modern style and using key elements to show the new urban look. Karl Lagerfeld makes everything iconic and edgy. The overall designs of spring/summer 2014 Haute Couture collection came out very beautiful but they also look comfortable matching with sneakers. I definitely think this collection works both in design and function.

For the fourth design, I chose The Karl Lagerfeld’s design for Fossil, the Karl Zip watch. According to Kate Doherty of WatchPro blog, “Karl Zip was the winner of Fashion Watch of the year in the WatchPro watches of the year 2013,” she says, continuing “the moment of Fossil Group teamed up with iconic fashion designer and Chanel artistic director Karl Lagerfeld to launch a range of watches, they had this fashion watch category in the bag.”

Lagerfeld has launched seven different styles of watches on his own brand, but I chose Karl Zip because I thought the Karl Zip was the most interesting and stylish watch ever. It looks like a bracelet but it actually has a watch inside.

karl-lagerfeld-fossil-zip-watchDoherty mentioned that this half-bracelet, half-watch’s style is edgy, making it the obvious choice for fashion-forward wearers. The unisex watch is made of three leather straps held together by working zippers alongside a pallet of nine stud, with the central stud swapped out for a small watch face. The zip element allows the wearer to determine the thickness of the watchstrap by unzipping some of the leather straps. Not only is it a fashion statement of a watch, but the fact the wearer can personalize the style has already made the Karl Zip a fashion-pack favorite.

The Karl Zip model embodies everything that is Lagerfeld with irreverent design and enduring appeal. It looks like a bracelet but if you see it up close, it is a watch. With this model that has colors like black, silver and black with studs, I can “feel Karl” and even the design is very modern, bold and stylish as its designer.

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The fifth design I have chosen is another model of Lagerfeld’s watch for Fossil, the Karl 7 Watch. This chic, iconic knockout highlights Lagerfeld’s lucky number seven. If you see the Karl 7 watch image, lucky seven is the only Roman numeral displayed on an edgy frame with faceted metals studs. A crown etched with the Karl Lagerfeld’s profile coolly finishes the statement-making silhouette. According to Lauren Levinson of Elle magazine, “We received a special sneak peek of the Karl 7 watch, which was named after his favorite digit – and a lucky number it is! The sleek time piece is surrounded by a beveled top ring. Lagerfeld said, ‘You cannot buy time but you can get a beautiful watch to measure time without spending a fortune.'” (elle.com)

karl-lagerfeld-fossil-watch-7The Karl 7 is definitely showing Karl’s style and sensibility. It is black, silver and white, with studs and Lagerfeld’s well-known silhouette icon as a logo. The modern looking watch has a circular shape and studs shapes on the frame and also inside the frame instead of numbers. The studded frames provide a kind of rhythm and balance, emphasizing the number seven– the sole roman numeral. Scale is also used to create emphasis with bigger studs on the frame than the numbers. The resulting overall design is very modern and edgy with geometric shapes, a luxurious color and small design details like the iconic Lagerfeld. silhouette on a crown.

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karl-lagerfeld-fossil-watch-karl-7-3The sixth design I have chosen is a 2014 Monster Choupette collection of Karl Lagerfeld. Choupette is Karl’s pet cat and she is used as a theme of his design. For this collection, Lagerfeld his beloved cat like a cartoon character. Choupette has a leather cat collar with studs showing she is definitely “Karl’s” cat and has rouge lips showing the cat is female. On Karl Lagerfeld’s website, it says, “There’s no end to surprises when it comes to Choupette. The charming little cat has now got a range of accessories in her image – well, in the image of a ‘cartoon’ Monster Choupette who will delight fans with big blue eyes and ready-to-to-grab mouth. Choupette-addicts will have the choice between a shopping bag, two sizes of pouch and a wallet, all in Saffiano leather.” (karl.com)

karl-lagerfeld-monster-choupette-collection-2014Monster Choupette pouches have two different styles. They both have the same Choupette face on a similar position but the one has one zipper and much simpler and the other has two zippers with a chain. Most of Karl Lagerfeld designs are edgy, simple, bold, stylish and modern. This Monster Choupette collection could be seen differently because it is obviously a fun, youthful design (and adorable), but I think it still shows Lagerfeld’s signature style. Although these pouches have a Choupette face that makes them lovely, the pouches themselves are very modern and simple. The linear lines and shapes, simply embedded logo, clean stitching, leather material, and even Choupette’s collar make the pouches “Karl-esque”. In addition, Choupette will reprise her role as a designer’s muse for a sophomore line of Karl Lagerfeld totes, sweaters, and accessories. I love the idea of using his own pet as a whole theme of his collection, and it worked very well.

The seventh design of Karl Lagerfeld is the Chanel Limited Edition Karl Lagerfeld Sketches Classic Flap bag. It is an extremely rare, breathtaking and stunning piece, beautifully entwining both the past and present, while showcasing the talents of both designers. The black and white fashion sketch print on canvas feels very different from the original 2.55 Double Flap bag that is quilted leather solid color bag. This Karl Lagerfeld sketch bag is very hard to find across the world because limited production run of this design makes this piece perfect for collector Chanel enthusiasts or fashion aficionados.

I think the sketch is a combination of various fashion sketches Lagerfeld drew thinking the fashion house Chanel. All women in his sketches have a similar face and body shape but different poses and clothes. Those sketches are made up of thin and curved lines and they feel natural because they are kind of rough. This bag somehow feels both vintage and modern at the same time. The sketch style and Coco Chanel feeling models are giving some vintage feeling but the black and white color combination and the fashion styles give some modern and chic feeling. It shows  Lagerfeld’s personality, but has a Coco Chanel feeling as well.

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The last design I have chosen is Karl Lagerfeld’s Fendi Spring/Summer 2015 Ready-to-wear Collection. Sarah Harris of Vogue magazine says that despite the rigorous line on his mini black dresses with asymmetrical swooshes, the line was an offering a vibe that felt young and, at times, playful. (vogue.co.uk)

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The designs I have chosen are just a part of the collection but they still show the style of this collection. I love those colors like black, white, navy, blue and gray that give modern feeling. The first dress with a blue leaf shape pattern feels playful and iconic. The pattern is playful and the dress design is very simple so it balanced out very nice. The other designs with black, white, and gray color showing a thick line shape in the middle are very urban, edgy and stylish as well. Baggy pants, tops and skirts are perfectly matching with the overall simple, appealing design. The design shows glossy texture on it and those cutting parts look so stylish. He makes incredible designs and they all become iconic designs.

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Lagerfeld made so many iconic designs and although I only chose eight of them to examine, I can kind of see Lagerfeld’s modern, edgy, unique and iconic style from all those designs. Even though  Lagerfeld is currently a head designer and creative director in three different fashion houses, Chanel, Fendi and his own brand Karl Lagerfeld, he shows “Karl” in different ways. The three iconic luxury brands have different styles, but he puts his sensibility on all three houses so that people can think, “it is Karl”. It would be difficult for me to represent my style under three different fashion houses, but the thought is very appealing. Lagerfeld is very good at it and I believe that’s why he could maintain his positions at all three fashion houses.

An incredible, clever and amazing idea for design can be pulled from everywhere. But, thinking differently from others is the hardest part, I think. Karl Lagerfeld could be a world’s famous, global fashion designer because he thinks differently– has his special sensibility, loves fashion, shows fascinating ideas through his designs and takes good care of himself. Also, he has been a fashion designer for more 60 years so even though he likes modern, sleek designs, he loves to mix them with old style and makes a wonderful combination. Seeing his designs, I feel he gets inspiration from movements like Art Deco the most. I respect his professional attitude towards fashion and his confidence. Karl Lagerfeld, simply put, is a fascinating fashion designer.

Works Cited

Chanel News. Interview. Web.

http://www.chanel-new.chanel.com

Elle Magazine. Web.

http://www.elle.com

Elle magazine. April 2014 Issue.

Elle Magazine. March 2014 Issue. Interview.

Karl Lagerfeld Official Website. Web.

http://www.karl.com

Melissa Official Website. Web.

http://www.melissaaustrailia.com

Vogue Magazine. September 2014 Issue.

Vogue Magazine. October 2012. Web.

http://www.vogue.co.uk

WatchPro Blog. Web.

http://www.watchpro.com

Written & Designed by FIDM Student Hyeyeon ‘Hailey’ Kim’

Hyeyeon-Hailey-Kim

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Author: James Peacock

James Peacock is a Digital Marketing Specialist at FIDM in Los Angeles, California. He received his A.A. in Graphic Design from FIDM and was hired as Social Media Assistant in 2013 by his alma mater in order to help grow the institution’s social media marketing efforts. James now combines two of his passions, telling stories and solving problems by managing data-driven marketing campaigns across multiple channels that ultimately result in a positive return on investment.

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